Stories of legends springing out of no man’s land and reaching the highest pinnacle in the game have always been a part of cricket. While the Northern Hemisphere had its own legend in a 1950s lad named Len Hutton, some regions of the world saw demigods arrive later in cricketing history.
For instance, nobody would have predicted that one individual named Sachin Tendulkar would become a torch-bearer for Indian cricket for almost two decades and carry the expectations of billion fans like no other.
In a similar vein, a lanky young kid had arrived on the scene for South Africa in 2004. The greats said he was a bowler with a lot of skill. Dale Steyn came from Phalaborwa, a small area in South Africa, where the word cricket as a sport was not familiar to anyone.
Over the course of the decade however, the area was chirping with new budding cricketers as cricketing legend quickly began to scale unparalleled success from the shores of the Southern Hemisphere.
After the retirement of Allan Donald, no one had ever thought his achievements could be overtaken by any other bowler. But there is no such thing as indispensable in sport as the world had seen Sunil Gavaskar being taken over by Sachin Tendulkar in terms of all cricketing accolades.
Steyn arrived at the international scene after playing his first game at Port Elizabeth against a formidable England side that was at their pomp at the time. He quickly grabbed the headlines as he shaped a delivery into Marcus Trescothick to see his stumps get clattered. The start of something out of the ordinary was witnessed.
The second innings witnessed a superb delivery by Steyn who foxed Michael Vaughan to see his stumps get hit, off-pole disturbed; leaving everyone in a state of awe to what had occurred on the field.
Steyn was a gem, much like a rough diamond extracted from the hills of Sierra Leone who needed to be polished and groomed for the world to see his ability with the ball at his optimum level. The phase began when he went to England to learn his craft and fully understand his incredible capabilities with the ball in hand.
He came back with renewed vigor and hunger that saw him become the new-ball bowler with the experienced Makhaya Ntini. The results showed as he took heaps of wickets and battered the touring New Zealand with some nasty short-pitch deliveries, including one that left Craig Cummins with a broken jaw.
Steyn was a raging bull who was rampant in his early years to flay any obstacle in his path. That certainly showed when his side managed to win Pakistan and complete a hard-fought draw in India due to magical performances on flat beds like Karachi and Ahmedabad.
He quickly hogged the limelight as the next best thing to happen to South Africa after Allan Donald in the 1990s. He toured England and gave a commendable performance at Headingly, Leeds to see his side front up many obstacles on the way to a Test series win in England after five decades.
The next assignment was the mighty Australian side that had always bullied South Africa in the last few years due to a deadly combo of spin-wizard Shane Warne and pacer Glenn McGrath.
But things had changed as the duo had gone from the game and the power of dominance was about to take paradigm shift in the Southern Hemisphere with Australia’s power as a Test side on the wane. The spirited South Africans caught them off-guard at the right time.
The enforcer in the series for South Africa turned out to Steyn who grabbed ten wickets at Melbourne to see his side complete a Test series win in Australia; becoming the first side to beat the Aussies at home since the West Indies triumph on the shores in 1993.
South Africa did accomplish new heights never attained before as Steyn could deliver clinical performances and offer stern test to any opposition with his sublime swing bowling at a high pace.
South Africa as a side started to grow in belief and stature as Steyn produced stellar performances with an ever-increasing frequency.
It is testament to Steyn that South Africa enjoyed their golden period from 2006 to 2016 with him being the prime enforcer in resulting victories for South Africa. He has now taken 406 wickets from 82 Tests with some truly incredible stats to his name.
Steyn has been South Africa’s designated premier enforcer with the ball for the whole last decade. With a few years left in his career, he would want to crank up his body to reach 500 wickets, a feat that he deserves more than anyone in the game at present.
The results were evident when he missed six matches in a row last year as his side lost five games with newbies like Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi failing to adequately fill the big boots of Steyn.
When he decides to call it a day, Steyn will surely go down as one of the greatest fast bowlers of this decade, joining an elite list of pantheons that terrorized batsmen around the world.